World Music's DIVERSITY and Data Visualisation's EXPRESSIVE POWER collide. A galaxy of INTERACTIVE, SCORE-DRIVEN instrument model and theory tool animations is born.

Thursday, June 30, 2016


Technology, Tribes, Future and Fallout

Score-driven instrument models, theory tools and P2P teaching will represent a fundamental shift in the ease with which the virtuoso's skills are communicated. We look at some other likely developments in the world of music, and their relationship to this new level of transparency.

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Music Instrument Trends Society Change Innovation Future. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheoryMusic semiology (semiotics): the study of symbols in music.


Score-driven instrument model visualisations can represent scales, fret- or keyboard roadmaps, optimal fingerings and hand or capo positions, but also exercises spanning a range of musical development goals, through genre-related modal contexts or spaces and all the way to familiarity with entire music-cultural landscapes.

Yet underlying both score and instrument, are simple, theoretical abstractions with meaning in their own right. These too are ideal for display using data visualisation tools and techniques.

Theory tools may provide us with abstract information on modes or other visual patterns, but also dimensional information suitable for direct comparison - such as the frequencies, ratios, intervals or other characteristics associated with different temperaments and intonations. As new models are developed (and there is plenty of scope for this), these animations may come to surprise us in their sophistication.

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Many music authors, however, remain preoccupied with notation reading skills and -to some degree- presentation of static music theory. Material intensively documented over the past century and a half is effectively rehashed for each new medium, but with -until now- slow advance, both in content and presentation.

Tools such as interval circles, spirals, tonnetze and tori have tended to remain on the one hand in the realm of advanced academic study, and on the other detached from possible drivers such as the musical score. Despite their visual clarity, high information content and value in bridging gaps in understanding of musical dynamics, they have little immediacy and are manifestly underexploited.

Data Visualisation

Data visualisation seeks to ease our understanding of sometimes complex datasets by representing their inherent patterns in a visual way. As elsewhere, in the context of music, it has the character of a paradigm change, a revolution. Used in a musical context, more or less any instrument interface or theory diagram can be transformed from simple, static image into wholly interactive, score- or audio- driven animation.
Moreover, the dynamic relations between instrument and theory model are rendered playfully transparent - and, in combination with sound, wholly immersive.

The benefits of engaging a range of senses during learning are well documented, reflecting what is applied intuitively by children during their period of most rapid learning advance. 

In the long term perhaps more importantly, four gateways are opened:
  • much more immediate and effective teaching
  • a much better understanding of our global, musicultural landscape
  • 'lateral' (non-obvious) insights - leading to yet further development
  • access to multiple areas of synergy such as psychophysics, sound and colour psychology, emotional response
  • new revenue sources for key end users - working instrumentalists, teachers and builders.

The Future of Music

Music. Gesture. Touch. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
The Lightness of Gesture
A range of innovative, gesture-sensitive instruments have appeared over the last few years.

Building on experiences with earlier (but intriguing) instruments such as theremin , continuum, and eigenharp, gestures seem increasingly destined to require little or no physical contact.
Innovation in itself fuels end-user differentiation - which, so the story goes, fuels adoption.

As new music technologies emerge and gain traction, what advances might we expect?

Stage 1. Configuration Freedom
Musical Configuration Space. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Current Musical Configuration Space
Total configurability based on several basic music parameters:
  • general interface layout (parallel, tonnetz, etc)
  • temperament or intonation
  • number of tones per octave
  • scale, channel or other resonant length
  • number of channels
  • tuning
There are of course -depending on instrument- many other possible configuration parameters. For wind instruments: wall thickness, degree of conical bore, end flaring and so on.

These can have impact both on the musical configuration of the instrument as well as it's timbre.

There is already a strong move towards tightly configuration-linked tactile feedback through new sensors and control surfaces.

This development alone will act as a catalyst for wide musical innovation - initially in the exploration of other culture's modalities, but increasingly in purely experimental music.

As access frameworks improve, ever more music exchange formats will be supported.
Moreover, it is possible that the very digital nature music technology allows across-the-board paradigm changes (or, indeed musical rediscovery) - as for example suggested by this article.

I quote: “much of modern harmony will be undone by this theory, and many musical instruments will be rendered useless when culture as a whole decides to embrace the infinite harmonies and beautiful musical purity made possible under the new regime.” 10 out of 10 for confidence..

Nevertheless, haptic sensors will certainly bring their own challenges. Not for nothing did the levering systems, padding, hole dimensions and layout of quality instruments take centuries to perfect.

With some form of physical key simulation, we might imagine a simple tubular haptic device able to mimic all of flute, clarinet, bassoon, bagpipe and kaval, but what of the sensory accuracy? Will such instruments be able to replicate the cuts, vibrato, rolls, slurs and cranning of real instruments? Will they clean up the intentionally dirty sound of a roughly blown saxophone reed? Round off the percussive pop of a sharply played flute? Filter out the soft liquid cranned gurgle of a quality bagpipe chanter? Can conventional technique requiring years of practise be transferred at all without utterly destroying musicality?

Stage 2.

Wearable. Integration into clothing, surfaces, cosmetics, jewelry with contactless gestural interfaces and listening over implants. For ease of use amongst non-musicians, confined to specific musical modes. Music extends immediate expression.

Virtual. On-stage stand-in for Keith Richards with the Rolling Stones in Rio? No problem. Global speed shredding competition? No problem. Romantic guitar lessons from Tarrega? No problem. Your imaginings? Virtual Reality's command.

Optimised. For pro musicians, interfaces providing a much closer match between ergonomic and music-theoretical models. Rich timbre and textural choice. Auto-accompaniment in every possible mode, greatly enhanced accuracy in sensing player dynamics.

Stage 3. Shape-Shifting.

Shape-changing instruments offering a choice of instrument configurations optimising relationships between various physical (touch) and theoretical (mental) models. With this, greater freedom of movement between tonal systems (so-called "dynamic tonality") within a single work.

Stage 4. Imaginative.

Thought itself. Musical intention can be anticipated and augmented in real time. Dynamic response greatly enhanced. Sharing, and play directly within, mental models of music.


Prodigy Virtuoso Star or Gathering Session Jam Community. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheoryThe Great Musical Divide. Commerce vs Community in a Neoliberal World
Parallel to this, will the products of machine learning / artificial intelligence / automation so intrigue mankind that it finds new ways to interact with music, or can we expect an analog renaissance?

There has -until now- been a perennial quality to music: something dependable, appealing to mankind's motor-skills-oriented sense of purpose and fulfilment.

Musical skills demand years of practice and ruthless commitment. Rapidly developing technologies do not auger well with emotional or time investments on this scale. Despite an in some senses paradoxical trend towards individualism, not all musicians are going to be convinced by ever expanding possibilities.

Moreover, musicians may find themselves asking why they should learn to play something an algorithm can do so much better. Convenience precedes abandonment. Unless somehow anchored in community and identification, in the long term, the most likely effect is demotivation.

In this sense, I see musician (as opposed to consumer) communities at minimum diverging and growing around entirely different value systems - at one extreme the the archetypal artist: fragile-egoed, driven and highly competitive (a sort of musical mentalist) and loyal only to the latest technical advance, and at the other the robust, social, community-oriented artisan and traditionalist. The former would tend, perhaps, to see technology as an enabler, their virtuosity and an technological affinity promising community recognition.

Drummers in Woodland. Low Tech, High Tension #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Low Tech, High Tension

The latter would tend, perhaps, to technology as a threat, and musical intuition and engagement as the expression of community and acceptance.

With neither likely to be any way comfortable in the other's milieu, both may be proven right. As elsewhere, strata will likely exist in between, each with it's own followers. Expect high mobility within, but only limited mobility between strata.


In the end, though, music technology may prove to be it's own downfall. On the technological end -fully commoditised, all low-level building blocks under copyright and virtually all new music algorithmically generated- there may be little personal incentive to create.

My feeling? I'm pretty sure we will see -at least in the short term as a counter-movement in an era of universal basic income (UBI)- a renaissance in social music making, and it will be focussed around F2F and P2P teaching and learning. I expect the convenience of equal temperament will continue to outweigh the harmonic purity of just intonation, and the challenge and drama of music system changes for most social music making.

With our arrival at the point where remote, peer-to-peer learning can emulate almost every aspect of earlier face-to-face modes, we are, however, at a crossroads. Clearly, from this point on, data takes over - and like it or no, we are talking about an almost exponential (and largely automation-driven) learning value chain enhancement.

At the same time, if (for example) Facebook are working on replacing everything -screens, keyboards and the like- with retinal displays on -in the interim- glasses, but ultimately, no doubt, direct brain interfaces or implants, end user communication devices will all but 'disappear'. That leaves the instruments: sensor-laden, globally connected, auto-configuring and more than likely self-playing.

The critical question for me is to what degree this undermines the motivation to learn and play an instrument. It seems likely there will always be people who like to user their hands, but perhaps this will in the end simply be a matter of personality.

Performers will (for dramatic effect) traverse multiple music systems in a single work. Any temperament or intonation, any number of notes to the octave, AI-supported and with all audio in stunning 3D.

Commercial music seems likely -through automated, global and centralised copyright- to become monopolised, yet musical virtuosity -perhaps as pure thought- within anyone's reach, and -though exceptionally diverse- commercially worthless. Perhaps all to the good?

Perhaps the healthiest approach is to step back and ask ourselves: what aspects of music have proven their direct value to us as social beings, and which will help us to be happier, better integrated, more connected and more content in the future?


About Cantillate -

Autodidact. Laird o' the Windy Wa's. Serial Failure with Attitude. Bit of a Dreamer..

Comments, questions and (especially) critique welcome.